Alternatives to a Written Blog

Detail of antique typewriter - in Blogging Alternatives: Vlogging, Podcasting and Images

How to Use Non-Writing Forms of Blogging

Video Blogging, or Vlogging

In our first class on blogging, Why Blog?, we focused on writing for blogs. Today, class, let’s look at three blogging alternatives.

Gary, you’re the journalism student, let me ask you, why would you want to use video blogging, or vlogging?

Well, from a journalism perspective, video is a great way to get a sense of place and to distribute reports and can quickly give viewers a sense of where you are and what is happening there.

Very true. So why doesn’t everybody do video blogging?

I’d say it depends on your audience. Some people like to learn or consume with text. Others learn and absorb better visually. Also, some journalists are better at writing, others at combining writing with video.

Absolutely, but it’s not always an either / or situation. Bloggers who primarily write can also do an occasional video. Or they can present their post in video, audio or as writing. It’s a lot more work, but you can appeal to a larger variety of consumers that way, too.


Isn’t it a lot more expensive to create video?

Generally, yes, but the price has come down a lot recently. You may already have much of the equipment you need. You can do simple vlog posts with nothing more than an iPhone or Android phone and some free video editing software. This is a good way to try out the field to see if it’s for you.

If you already do photography, you might already have an excellent video camera, too. For example, my oldish Canon T3i is capable of doing near-theater-quality video, more than enough for a video blog post. You can also get a variety of video cameras for less money than a medium-pro-level SLR camera.

So what’s the most important equipment factor in creating videos for a blog? Marie?

I’d guess it’s the camera.

That’s what most people would say, and image quality is very important.

But others would argue that the most important factor in recording video is the sound. A viewer might forgive less-than-perfect lighting and jumpy video, but if they can’t understand what you are saying, they’ll go elsewhere after a few seconds.

You also need to be aware of environmental noise, whether it’s birds cawing or police sirens outdoors, or indoors, a fan or an air conditioner, a squeaky chair, or your dog whimpering in the hallway.

Sketched trio of Camera, Mike and Clapboard holders

So, if you decide to go with video, one of your first upgrades will probably be a good microphone or two. If you are interviewing others on camera, a pair of lavalier mikes, that clip on to your clothing, are useful.

After a good microphone and a good camera, especially if you are shooting indoors, a lighting setup will probably be your next upgrade. Sunlight is an excellent light source, outdoors and through windows, but the sun moves and disappears at night. Cloudy days can be the best for video quality – no harsh shadows or glare and subjects won’t squint into the sun. But you can’t always have video-perfect weather. Good lights give you a lot more flexibility.

So, if you try out vlogging and decide you like it, you may want to upgrade, buy or borrow a good camera, a tripod, microphones, microphone stands, lights, softlight covers, lighting stands, and a backdrop, and even some studio furniture. That is where Joe is correct. You can start fairly cheap, more cheaply than ever before, but as you go on, good video blogging can get more expensive quickly, even if you borrow or rent equipment.

What other equipment might be helpful? Gary?

Well, if you’re doing weather forecasts, a bluescreen or greenscreen would be useful, to replace the background with a weather map.

Absolutely, and blue-screen technology isn’t just for weather forecasts. Some video bloggers love to use blue-screen technology to vary the background image in their post. Shooting in front of a colored screen allows you to use software to insert your own image (or even a video) in the background. Doing a report about the Eiffel Tower, you can download an image of Paris and it looks like you’re in Paris. Alternately, for a literary blog, you might want an image of a sophisticated private library in the background. A screen also gives you the option of hiding the mess behind it, too.

What else? Joe?

You mentioned video editing earlier. Can’t that be expensive all by itself?

It CAN be, and if you are expanding your video into movie-making, you might want something more sophisticated than some of the free options. Video bloggers might not need the same full-featured editing tools as a movie producer. BUT, if you do a lot of editing, you may want to get a better and faster computer with a bigger and faster hard drive just to speed up your editing. This is not essential for beginning bloggers, but if you end up do this professionally, processing speed becomes important.

At the other end of the spectrum, if you are doing instructional video about computer software, all you might need is a screen-capture tool and the microphone on your laptop.

Another aspect we haven’t mentioned, is that if you are recording yourself on video, a technician who can operate the camera, set up microphones, and can monitor the sound is very useful. If you record outdoors in public settings, think of security, too. If you are preparing to interview a couple of people in a park, you might be so distracted that you don’t notice a bystander, a kid, or even a raven or a seagull walking up to a mike or a small camera and flying away with it. (Google “Bird Steals Camera” and see what you find.)

Yes, Edith?

Is the extra time needed for recording made up by not needing to actually write a blog post?

Good question. First, it depends on whether you work better in front of a camera with a full script or a simple outline.

But also, technical preparation, location scouting, getting helpers and interviewees, shooting and editing can take much more time and organization than simply writing. Plus, you may need to do retakes when the unexpected happens, like when a lighting stand crashes during an interview.

When I was involved in audio recording sessions, there was a rule of thumb that you were doing well if you could get 4-8 minutes of final product in an hour recording session. That was with a large band or orchestra, involving a lot of people where a lot of things had to happen just right. Your standards might not be so strict, but there are plenty of things to fill your time with video blogging.

If you are trying video blogging for the first time, keep it simple and easy. It is amazing what you can do with a phone or tablet and a simple editor. Don’t spend a lot of money until you are sure of what you need and why. Be prepared for a long learning curve, too.

Audio Blogging & Podcasting

So, if video blogging seems too involved for you, can any of you tell me the advantages that audio blogging or podcasting has over video? Joe?

Because you don’t need a camera?

Well, that’s a part of it. But from the consumer’s side of it, what are the advantages?

With podcasts, you can download the recording and listen later.

That’s a good part of it. Whether you are sharing on a podcasting service or from your own blog, audio blogging has several advantages:

  1. You can do much of the same reporting and storytelling from audio as you can with video. On a heavy news day, compare TV news with radio (I’m thinking NPR and BBC radio news). The quality of NPR news, for example, is higher than that of most TV stations. (In my opinion.)
  2. Audio files are much smaller than video. That means it’s faster to download audio and listeners can save more audio files on a phone or tablet (or a laptop, for that matter).
  3. People can listen to audio while doing other things, like commuting, driving, cleaning, cooking, or exercising. So audio consumers tend to like longer audio reports or podcasts than they do video. Videos are often in the 3-8 minute range, podcasts can easily be 15 to 50 minutes in length.
  4. If you have an audio book, they can listen to it over a period of days. So consumers have very different expectations from sound blogs than they do from video blogs.
  5. If you create both video and audio versions of the same blog, you might find they attract different audiences.

Note that if you plan on doing a lot of video or audio blogging, make sure that your blog host won’t charge you more for the greater online storage you need. Saving your video or audio files elsewhere (say, Youtube for video, or LibSyn or Blubrry for audio) and embedding it on your blog might help.

Hands on an audio board for Blogging Alternatives: Vlogging, Podcasting and Images

Aren’t there different production challenges with audio blogs?

QuotationMarks2 brownPeople can listen to audio while doing other things, like commuting, driving, cleaning, cooking, or exercising. So audio consumers tend to like longer audio reports or podcasts than they do video.

Absolutely. On video, many performers wing it when doing a presentation, maybe using a simple outline instead of a script. I’ve seen demonstration or educational videos where the presenter was obviously making it up as they go along, and it was frustrating because it took so long to get the important info. Don’t be that blogger!

On audio, you are probably more aware of stumbles and interjections, such as “ah” or “er” between words. It is also easier to read off a script. By not improvising so much, your presentation can sound much smoother. Just don’t sound like you’re reading off a script.

Complex editing is a bit easier in audio because you don’t have to deal with the visual cues that a visual medium requires. If you are doing interviews, both video and audio allow you to conduct an interview over Skype or Facetime or other services. With audio, you can also interview over the phone, but if you do, make sure you record your interviewee giving permission for you to record so you can’t be accused of breaking wiretapping laws!

Image Blogging

So, in our exploration of blogging alternatives, what is the third different medium used by bloggers. (A clue, it’s visual.) Joe?

Er, silent movies?

Nope, but it’s an idea. How about something that might help your pottery business, Edith.

Would that be photography?

Yes! Sharing photography or artwork or other visual files are a third media forum for bloggers. For example, Edith, you might want to do a series of blogs on displays of your or other people’s pottery or how to make pottery.

Some cooking sites are very visually oriented, with just simple instructions in between photos. Other image sites feature cartoons, illustrations, clipart, fashion and style, textures for Photoshop, even architecture, and don’t forget those tech blogs with lots of photos of the latest hardware for you to drool over.

If you have a portfolio of artwork, your blog could feature various presentations of your work, or teach others how to create similar work. The key is an emphasis on images, not text.

The Problem with Non-Written Blogs

So, with so many blogging alternatives, what is the biggest disadvantage for people searching for your video, audio or photo blog? Pete?

Could that have anything to do with Google or other search engines?

QuotationMarks2 brownSome cooking sites are very visually oriented, with just simple instructions in between photos. Other image sites feature cartoons, illustrations, clipart, fashion and style, textures for Photoshop, even architecture…

It has everything to do with search engines. The roaming software that searches the web for content is mainly text oriented, looking for keywords, headlines and descriptions. But in a video or audio file, there is NO text, so no keywords and no SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

So, what is a common way to guarantee Google and Bing will search your media content? Marie?

Have a list of keywords?

Possible, but there’s another way that might work even better.

Oh! Typing out your video?

Yes. If you look at a lot of audio and video blogs, you will find that they also include a text transcript along with their media or audio files. A photography or art site might not have a transcript, but they can add text commentary (with keywords) to their blog to help the search engines. But photography and art also can take advantage of Google or Bing image search and specialty databases, like TinEye.

Even radio media, like NPR news and other programs, will also post a transcript or, at least, a shortened written version. A big reason is so they aren’t invisible to search engines.

And, if you already had typed out your script, you already have your transcript! Amazing how that works.

OK, to wrap this up, what are some other ways you can use all this audio and video equipment to monetize your blog? Edith?

Teaching online?

Yes. The same skills and equipment for video and audio blogging are also useful if you want to monetize your blog by offering video or audio webcasts, online seminars (webinars), or even selling commercial DVD’s or developing online courses.

You also can record your (non-blog) speaking or teaching engagements and offer them (for free or a fee) later to new audiences. Or use them in your blog.

Before you can sell webinars and seminars, though, you need to develop your reputation as a subject matter expert to sell webinars and the like. You also probably want a very large mailing list of visitors to your blog before trying to monetize your expertise.

To close, many bloggers spend their blogging lifetimes simply writing blogs, and that’s fine. Others try their hand a video or audio or images to vary their blog and to attract new audiences. A Youtube or iTunes presence can also draw new people to your blog. Multimedia is marketable, too, if you build the right audience.

In our next class, we’ll talk about other types of techniques for varying your written blogs, too.

1927 Royal Typewriter and a modern laptop, side-by-side

Image Credits

Title image is a corner view of a 1927 Royal Model 10 typewriter, taken by the author, Andrew Brandt. Edited in Photoshop with Topaz Labs plugins.

The film crew trio sketch is used courtesy of “VectorOllie” and

The colorful sound board sketch was originally a photo by “bejim” on The image was substantially altered in Photoshop and Topaz Labs’ Impression 2.

“Blogging: Old and New,” is by the author, Andrew Brandt, of a 1927 Royal Model 10 typewriter and a circa 2013 laptop. Edited in Photoshop and Topaz Labs’ Black & White plugin.

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